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A Whole New World Underneath: Dinner at Sakagura

June 15, 2012

Of all the neighborhoods in Manhattan, I rarely find myself in Midtown East when it comes to dining out.  However with a little bit of research, I was able to uncover quite a few gems.  Some, like Sushi Yasuda and Soba Totto, are a little easier to find than others like Sakagura.  Located beneath an office building right next to Soba Totto, Sakagura literally reflects its name which translates into “Hidden Cellar”.

Once you make your way downstairs into the belly of the building, a large and bustling space is revealed.  The restaurant is big and full of life even late into the night on the weekends.  With large list of small plates, the best way is to go with a big group so you can sample as many dishes as possible.  The dishes come out ad hoc and can be in quite a flurry but don’t be flustered.  Kick back with a icy cold cup of Sapporo and get ready to be stuffed.

Start off with a light and refreshing bowl of the Onsen Tomago.  The perfectly soft boiled egg floats in a chilled bowl of dashi broth studded with delicate sea urchin pieces and sparkling salmon roe.  The portion is great for two, but better yet, order a bowl for yourself so you don’t have to share.

The tonkatsu special might not be there every time but crispy fried pork pieces are juicy and subtly flavored with curry.  They make for a great dish to share with the table.

The kamo roast are ever-so thinly slices of duck draped loosely around slivers of scallions.  Each bundle is dotted with the tiniest bit of basil sauce.  This might seem like a simple dish but the flavors are complex and burst in your mouth.

Tender chilled pieces of grilled eel are the star of uzaku.  The little tower has the eel layered with wakame seaweed and crispy cucumbers making this dish flavorfully and texturally exciting.

Moving onto the warm dish with a plate of gindara yuan yaki.  The sweet soy sauce glazed cod fillet might be a bit predictable in a Japanese restaurant but each fatty flake of the cod is just as good as any other bite.

The surumeika yaki is a platter of grilled Japanese squid with garlic soy sauce.  Simple and elegant and goes well with beer or sake.

Buta Kakuni, a crowd favorite, is a Sakagura specialty.  A piece of soft stewed pork belly is sweet and the skin melts into the meat.  Eat each bite with a little bit of the delicious warm broth and don’t forget that dab of mustard on the side of the bowl to help cut the richness.  This is definitely another dish not to be shared.

After all those small plates, a little carb is a great way to wrap up the meal.  Sakagura has a number of onigiri, topped with bonito flakes or salmon flakes, among others.  The rice to topping proportion might err on the side of too much rice but those bites where you do get  the right amount of salty topping and rice are quite heavenly.

Another way to indulge in carbs at Sakagura is to go with a special bowl of buttery rice laced with chunks of blue crab.  The rice is mixed table side by the waiter and each guest is presented with a small portion of steaming crab rice.

Finally, you are ready to move onto desserts!  The choices here combine classic Asian flavors like sake, green tea and sesame with western techniques.  For the more adventurous palate, the sake panna cotta or the sesame creme brulee is the right choice.  Creme brulee is topped with black sesame ice cream to even more enhance the flavor.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong either with ending a complex meal full of delicious dishes with two elegant and simple scoops of creamy green tea ice cream.  Finally, you are ready to emerge above ground where you continue on with the night, happy to have spent a few hours in an underground world eating, drinking and indulging in good company.

Sakagura | 211 East 43rd Street  New York, NY 10017 | http://www.sakagura.com/

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